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Wednesday , February 20 , 2013
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Wheels of democracy turning

A jawan stands guard along a Kohima road ahead of the Assembly elections. Picture by UB Photos

So just what would language be without its nuances? It was mid-way through his drink that this writer-event-manager-musician friend of mine decided to excuse himself.

Dada, olop dhila di aho,” he said, quite matter-of-factly, before disappearing through a side door.

I had heard quite a few interesting, colloquial Assamese descriptions of that one call — xoru pani sui aho, nodir pani jukhi aho, bahiror pora aho...

Their English equivalents would be somewhat on the lines of “make small water”, or, “go measure the river” (Assam is a land of rivers, you see, much beyond the Punjab), or, simply “step out”, very similar to what the Brits say, “go round the corner”.

But dhila? Ease, as in with a water tap? That’s new.

And striking, but works all right, I thought on second thoughts, given the nuance. Works quite well, actually.

How else would you describe the bladder business, meek, mild or monstrous?

Guwahatians do have a way of plucking out English words and putting them to good Assamese use, sometimes to better effect than the original itself.

So, a completely boring misfit may simply be referred to as “oblong”.

Quite like in the lexicon of the Hindi speaker and his “same to same” for “exactly the same”, and “hand-to-hand” for hatho-haath, or immediately deliverable, but I have always thought “oblong” is better, more apt in the description, and more classy.

A former driver of mine, an illiterate and not quite the constantly improvising Guwahati conversationalist, did have one, too, an improvisation, however accidentally he may have stumbled upon it.

Driving down a Guwahati road, one day, he turns around and asks me: “Dada eito speed bekar, nohoi?”

“What?” I asked and he replies “Mane jiman jorei gari nosolai, eitoe speedto bekar kori diye” meaning no matter how fast you are driving, this makes your speed bekar, useless.

Mabul Hussain, third generation Bangladeshi illegal I think, had just negotiated a speed-breaker, and he also really wanted to learn English.

I did tell him what the real word was but with a rejoinder, “Pal your version is perfect too, even better”.

But more of that later. Let’s stick with dhila for now.

That one word has its usage all right and it changes as we travel, adapting and adapted all the time.

In Bengal, it means loose as in “dourita dhile hoye gache” for “the rope has become loose”, or, in matters of negative morality “Or choritro dhile”, he is loose charactered, just like in English, same to same.

At longitude 77.12 degrees east, in Delhi, I have heard it used as a noun.

Oi dhile, kaam kar”, in instruction to the lazy bum to get to work, for example.

In Assam, we have over many years now got used to “Saar, olop dhilai diboson”, in pleading with a teacher to keep it a little “dhila”, you know to allow some grace marks and things.

The usage is the same when it comes to the government allowing some to break the law and get away with it so long the pretext is that of an armed rebellion.

So when you see former militants do da crime all da time and not get in jail, sorkare olop dhilai dise aru, the government has loosened up the system a little, not much but just enough for some hard criminals to get away scot free.

But nowhere have the folks from longitude 77.12 degrees east played the olop dhila card better than they have 94 degrees east, in trouble-torn Nagaland.

In Nagamese that would be something like “Itu law and order situationtu olop dhila korise”, as a friend put it, the law and order situation has been kept a little loose.

You bet, and with what effect.

So much so that there are villagers who have been told that it’s okay to loot.

“India governmentla poisha aseto (well, this is money of the Indian government, not Nagaland)”, I was once told by a person at Peren in Nagaland, and quite seriously too, when the topic of discussion veered to corruption in a state where many believe that the cure to a broken road is a better car.

So what do you have? Thirty-four crorepatis fighting elections this year in a land where poverty is rampant.

You have a minister getting caught, allegedly with crores of rupees in his car, all booty that was meant to have been distributed to many a voter who (and who’s to blame him) would see that as a windfall in otherwise poor times.

In a land where there is an insurgency to quell, why not keep the borders just olop dhila, just enough to let the drugs flow in a wipe out an entire generation of youngsters who could have become militants?

Not like it’s unheard of in Assam. But it’s done with some finesse, enough not to get caught with crores in the car.

In the panchayat elections that recently got over, the buzz was that every MLA had put out Rs 2.5 lakh for his panchayat candidates.

We have 126 MLAs and 26,844 panchayat seats in Assam.

Everyone could smell it but no one can put a finger on it.

Things are simply, suitably, adequately alop dhila.

Trouble is, dhila would also be the word for putting out the line before reeling in the fish. That’s what’s happened in Nagaland.

But then, what do you do when you are on a high, living the good life, and you got to go win — again?

So you got to go when you got to go.

Given the urgencies of life, and the moment, there is no speed bekar that can help, is there?